Spoiler Alert: Don’t read if you haven’t seen There Are Some Women… Episode 4 of Industry Season 2 streaming now on HBO Max.
HBO’s Industry is a show about being young and hungry: for money, sex, love, power and control. But in the cast of twenty-somethings trying to navigate both professionally and personally in the murderous world of British investment bank Pierpoint, the most memorable character – and most impressive performance – is her much older boss from creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay’s drama. Eric Tao (Ken Leung), the executive director of the Cross Product Sales Desk, which houses half of the show’s main quartet, isn’t your typical mentor figure, though he develops a compelling camaraderie with the highly motivated Harper (Myha’la Herrold). ). He is single-minded in his pursuit of profit and his preferred method of leadership is to bully and intimidate his subordinates into submission. Leung is a force as an erratic director, giving him just enough humanity to be sympathetic but giving him a seriousness that makes him feel invincible.
But in Season 2, Eric’s position at the company feels increasingly shaky as his professional relationship with Harper falls apart and his competence is questioned by Danny Van Deventer (Alex Alomar Akpobome), who has been transferred to his desk from Pierpoint’s New York office. After his protégé goes behind his back and convinces their client (Jay Duplass) not to sell his shares to Eric, the director goes to America with his family for two weeks. In a crisis of sorts, he considers slowing down to focus on raising his daughters and reconnects with Holly (Anna Wilson-Jones), the widow of his late friend and mentor Newman – another Pierpoint employee, too who had formed a strong bond with Eric before the events of the show began. Then, at the last minute, he’s ambushed by Danny and his boss, and forced to accept a “promotion” to the customer relationship management department — exactly the kind of cozy desk job that someone who lives off stress like him loathes.
“I needed to understand what this position means in the culture of this world,” Leung said of the rendition of the final scenes of the episode in which Eric moves into his new office. “Mickey and Konrad told me it was a bullshit role. I think when he’s playing it and looking around and being with the picture and the stuff, he’s trying to get out of there as soon as possible in some way. It’s not like, ‘This is my new place. Let me get used to being here.” I don’t think he intends to stay there long.
Leung spoke via Zoom diversity about showing a more vulnerable side to Eric in Season 2, working with Herrold and how he wraps his brain around the show’s dense financial talk.
Well, I’ll be honest with you: 90% of the time when I watch Industry I don’t understand a word that comes out of the mouths of the characters on the trading floor. When you receive the scripts, how much do you understand?
Bit by bit – Mickey and Conrad are very approachable. I go through every script. And I tag every question, no matter how seemingly silly it is, and they answer it until I get the essence of what the exchange is. I don’t feel I need to understand the details of the financial part. It’s really, “Am I trying to convince this person to buy this to sell this?” From what I can understand, they deliver that and the rest comes from gaming.
Eric has always felt so powerful in this world, but in Season 2 we see him in a slightly more vulnerable light. What did you think of that and why is he now being questioned at Pierpoint?
He doesn’t make as much money as he used to. Anyone in that position would be more fragile. Playing someone powerful is only fun when you lose them, so I applaud that. Eric is also the type of character for whom these challenges are what he’s all about. How to get it back, how to find it again. Especially for season 2 where he’s doing some of it in honor of his late mentor and in a way his best friend.
How do you think Newman’s death affected Eric and his performance at Pierpoint?
In a way that surprises him. It’s not like I go in and analyze at all and I’m like, ‘OK, that’s how I look at it: That’s how I register this loss.’ That would take the fun out of it. I try to go in and know what the pieces are and I just let it fly. And anything that involves a deep relationship, you can channel any number of people in your actual life who you love, because then it can be a kind of tribute to real real life friends.
On the subject of deep relationships, the core of the show is the dynamic between Harper and Eric. How do you build this with Herrold?
It’s so easy to trade with her. She is very present. She knows what works for her and what doesn’t work for her. I’m not afraid to improvise with her – any kind of acting situation becomes easier when you have someone just with you. Chemistry cannot be made or planned. But when we met, we had something. It was like we knew each other before.
There’s a line of dialogue in Season 2 where Harper tells Danny not to listen to what people are saying about her relationship with Eric, and the implication is that people at the company are gossiping about sleeping together. What is pulling her together?
I don’t think Eric knows 100% either. I think he sees a lot of himself in her and he welcomes that position, that he is to her what Newman was to him. I think in Season 2 Eric is trying a lot to keep Newman alive. For example, when he enters this office – the one exactly recreated from Newman’s office – it hits him in a way he didn’t expect. He didn’t expect this office to be staged for him and I don’t think he expects to feel the way he felt seeing the MAGA cap and all.
We’re trying to set up a playground, and when you’re on it you don’t really know how it’s going to make you feel. This is what makes scenes fun to play out: when you’re not just stepping into them to perform something you’ve already planned ahead. He has mixed feelings about grief, how to keep Newman’s memory alive. I think it’s a fluid thing, where that sadness sits in him will change. I can’t tell you how that will change, any more than I could tell you how my real-life grief over real-life loss evolves over time.
On the subject of Newman, it was really fascinating to hear him talk to Newman’s widow, Holly, in the restaurant about the racism he had experienced from Newman. Can you tell me something about playing this scene?
It’s not 100% clear where Eric stands in terms of political leanings; We can make guesses based on what we’ve been given so far. I don’t know how to articulate how to unpack it. At that moment, Holly was surprised to hear Newman had ever been like this, so it was a matter of getting her to understand that there was a side to him that she didn’t know. There’s no easy way to unpack these things, I guess it’s like all of our relationships in life. How do you unpack your relationship with your father? That element of “I don’t know” is important to acting. It’s important not to know. Knowing facts and backstories or having the answer to a question doesn’t help you play the game, it just gives you the confidence that “Oh, I’ve been diligent enough to find all the answers.” Playing comes from interacting with another human in front of you.
Can you tell me about the filming of the scenes in the episode where Eric saves on a DVD over the phone? How did you approach this antagonistic relationship and work with Akpobome?
Alex walked in very respectfully. He was new to the show, while most of the cast had already done a full season together. Once we established that he was one of us and that we enjoy being on the show, on that phone call as we were filming his side of it, I was just doing all sorts of things on the other end of the call. Like not talking for minutes – anything that would cause a riot or reaction. This show gives us the kind of space to play, to get a reaction from the other actors that you could never get by sitting down to talk about it beforehand. “I’ll do this, and then you’ll do this” – that would kill anything spontaneous, you know? Alex, he’s a really reactive actor. You’re trying something you haven’t done before, he’s right there with you. In this respect he is a very sensitive actor.
I love the two quick scenes in the episode where Eric plays with his outfit; He aggressively shines his shoes and pulls off his tie at the last second in the elevator on his way to a meeting. They’re small moments, but they say so much about who he is.
You don’t expect to see him like this. You almost never see him unsure – you usually see him very calmly. So whenever you catch a glimpse of him when he’s not, it’s always fun to play.
During the scene with Holly, Eric says something about how he wants to feel like he’s earned his right to be there, earned his place at the pierpoint. How do you think that plays a role in how he navigates this world?
He feels like he has to constantly earn his place, why he is the way he is, why he is the way he is tough. He’s not a guy who relaxes – he relaxes in the midst of chaos. That’s his comfort zone. He feels like he’s always fighting something. Whether he really is is another story.
This interview has been edited and abridged.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/industry-episode-4-ken-leung-1235346840/ “Industry” Season 2 Episode 4: Ken Leung on Eric’s promotion